Interview with Sohail Tavazoie


Senior Attending Physician
Leon Hess Associate Professor
Elizabeth and Vincent Meyer Laboratory of Systems Cancer Biology

Interview by Fernando Bejarano


Sohail Tavazoie, M.D., Ph.D. Photo: Fernando Bejarano/NATURAL SELECTIONS

Imagine that you are just out of graduate school and about to embark on a biomedical science post doc in a world-renowned research institute. You have your Ph.D., you feel self-assured, confident, and certain of your path in life. You are excited about this next step and don’t care how demanding it could be compared with your Ph.D. But in a moment of doubt, you pause to consider what it might mean to be an academic scientist: what have you gotten yourself into? Many thoughts and unanswered questions about your future career will run through your mind. “Will I be strong enough to withstand the pressure? Will the impact of my research be high enough? Will I publish in good journals fast enough?” Faster, Higher, Stronger… And you dive in, that moment when the Olympic motto expresses the career aspirations of a well-driven scientist.

Most would agree if I said that many of us dreamt from the start of achieving greatness in our careers, and embraced this motto just as if we were getting ready to run the Olympic marathon. Science can be compared to endurance running, where the stamina of researchers is tested and culminates with the ultimate goal, a groundbreaking, game changing publication that will help them secure a top academic position or that sought-after industry job.

Our guest, Dr. Sohail Tavazoie, is a great example of a top player achieving greatness in this scientific field, breaking records every step of the way. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkley. He also has an M.D. from Harvard Medical School and a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Harvard University. Tavazoie then spent time as an oncology fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and conducted postdoctoral research in Joan Massague’s lab. During this time, he changed fields from developmental to cancer biology where he began to focus on the control of breast cancer by microRNAs. This was a fortuitous transition, because shortly after, he crossed Manhattan’s York Avenue to start his very own lab at The Rockefeller University. Dr. Tavazoie’s lab has been trying to understand different cellular situations where cancer cells are being regulated by small RNAs. Every project in his lab poses a new challenge. As a result of his continued success, Dr. Tavazoie has received much recognition and many honors: ASCO Young Investigator Award, Emerald He Foundation Young Investigator Award, and the Pershing Square Sohn Prize among others.

I met Dr. Tavazoie at his office, and what was supposed to be a ten minute chat turned into an afternoon of riveting conversation. Whether it was because I also work in microRNAs and tumor progression, or perhaps it was because I enjoyed his fascinating responses to our questionnaire, or maybe even, because he mentioned a fondness for Madrid, my hometown, I sat there enthused by his passion for science and his wonderful achievements in such a short career.

NS: Who, or what, inspired you to enter your field of achievement?

ST: It happened during a science summer program when I was in high school. John Roth, who was a bacterial geneticist, exposed me to science for the first time and that was what hooked me. Later, when I was in college, I got a job in a lab washing the glassware to pay for my college tuition. While I was there, I made a deal with the scientist from the lab I was in, half the time I would wash the glasses and half the time he would let me do research. That was great to do experimental science again during college, but looking back I would really say that it was my high school experience, when I was 16 and worked with John, who made bacterial genetics super exciting, that is what definitely got me hooked on science and I could never go back from that.

NS: Explain your work to a five-year-old.

ST: When people get cancer sometimes the cancer can spread to other organs in the body and that is called metastasis. When it is spread to other places, the cancer cells can grow in those organs destroying them and patients can die. The biological question is how is it that some of those cells that belong at the primary tumor site can colonize other tissues. Experiments have shown that out of every ten thousand cancer cells in circulation, roughly one is able to ultimately form a metastatic colony. We are trying to understand how this single cell is able to do that and how it can shift its gene expression program to be successful in colonizing other tissues. We have seen how those cells are able to change the lifespan of their RNAs. By increasing the stability of those RNAs of genes that promote growth and metastasis, and suppressing the genes that negatively impact on them, they are able to form the malignant colonies. We are interested in better understanding the process by which those cells are able to shift the level of those genes’ RNAs and we have seen that this can be achieved post-transcriptionally by diverse small RNA types. We have observed that similar gene regulatory mechanisms also operate in normal cells to control the levels of gene expression normally. Probably not for a five year old kid though.

NS: If you could sum up the most important characteristics of a scientist in three words, what would they be?

ST: A scientist should be passionate, rigorous and hard working.

NS: How does creativity play a role in science?

ST: I think that creativity plays two roles. The first is that creativity is important in the initial inception of what you are going to study and what you want to pursue, the biological question that you are interested in. Creativity also comes into play by enabling you to utilize new technologies and creating new approaches in order to specifically address your … questions.

NS: Scientists are not only focused on science. They are usually passionate people devoted to other extra-curricular activities. Do you have any other passions besides science?

ST: I used to. Right now my free time goes to my children…I used to play sports, I love[d] to run track and field, played a lot of basketball, skiing, rock climbing. Once you have children, things change and kids become your hobby. Right now, the kids drain all my free time, but every now and then, my wife and I take some time for ourselves and enjoy this beautiful city.

NS: What would you be if you weren’t a scientist?

ST: … I trained as a physician, I am a medical oncologist and I am still seeing patients at MSKCC. If I wasn´t a scientist I think I would do that full time. In my opinion, medicine has become … more and more scientific, and medicine and science have a lot in common. We need more effective cancer therapies for patients and that motivates me to continue to understand how cancer behaves. I think being a scientist is the best job one can … have, and being a physician would be the second best job.

NS: Did you have any big rejections in your life?

ST: Absolutely. As you grow up, there are things you aspire for that you don’t achieve. In track and field, there was always someone faster than me. During high school and college there were rejections. When I applied for grants there have been many rejections. There have been rejections also in paper submissions. I think rejections are key, because you want to know that not everything is easy and you need to get a sense that you can’t have everything you want. That you have to work hard for what you want. Life is many times not fair and you can work very hard and not get what you fought for. Rejection builds character and forces you to elevate your game. In science in particular, you need thick skin and can’t let frustration take over.

NS: Who, of all the historic or current personalities, would you most want to meet and why?

ST: That’s a good question. I would like to meet Oswald Avery of Avery-MacLeod-McCarty fame. He was a professor here … and they were the first [group] to show that DNA is constitutes the molecular basis of heredity. It is sad that he never got full recognition for that. From what you can read about him he seems to have been an outstanding scientist, an incredible thinker, and someone with tremendous integrity. I´d love to meet him and have a better understanding of his persona and how he could inspire the younger scientist[s] around him who transmitted his own approach.

NS: What’s your idea of a perfect holiday/vacation?

ST: I would say … in a Mediterranean beach resort with great food, enjoying time with my family and having time to read books about history and science that I am really into.

NS: Do you have any advice for young researchers?

ST: Take your time to find the question you are interested in. Talk to senior scientists who could be your role models and inspire you. Try to find out how they take their path in science. Try to push yourself into areas that are understudied. Find a good environment that allows you to grow and express yourself. One doesn’t have to stay in academia, if you find it in biotech [biotechnology companies], just go for it. There’s great science done in biotech, as it is in academia. Communication is a big part of science, so I would tell them to practice their teaching skills, it helps your lectures and your ability to write, and the better you communicate, the better scientist you will be.

NYU’s “Street Science” Aims to Bridge the Gap Between STEM Fields and the Younger Generation

Johannes Buheitel


The New York Museum of Mathematics (MoMath) invited attendees of all ages to help build this huge geometric structure

“Cool” and “Awesome” are just two of many joyous exclamations I hear while I am trying to squeeze through the crowd of children, parents and other interested individuals filling up the NYU Kimmel Center to the brim. On Sunday, June 5, citizens from all boroughs came to Washington Square Park to engage in “Street Science,” a free educational experience, which concluded the World Science Festival hosted by NYU during the preceding week. The helpers and organizers were positively surprised by the huge interest in the event despite that it had to be relocated indoors due to an unfavorable weather forecast. At countless stations, helpers from NYU and other institutes inside and outside of the city demonstrated exciting experiments, interesting natural phenomena and brainteasing mathematical conundrums among other things designed to bridge the gap between STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines/topics and the (mostly) young audience.


Motivated helpers engaged kids in all sorts of experiments and projects



The Bowdoin College RoboCup Team demonstrated how programming can make robots spring to life, communicate with each other and even cooperate to play soccer

Even though the excitement and the light-hearted nature of events like “Street Science” is sincere, the apparent need for such events does highlight current issues in STEM education in the United States. According to the 2012 report of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), which is rather fittingly titled “Engage to Excel,” the US is facing a shortage of up to one million STEM professionals by the end of 2018. The country has a history of relying on foreign professionals to satisfy those work-force demands. Increasing education and job opportunities in the foreign job markets pose serious threats for the domestic STEM job sector and, ultimately, the US economy. Therefore, in their report for President Obama, the experts from PCAST (whose roster reads like a Who’s Who of science and technology, and includes minds such as Eric Lander of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, as well as Google’s Eric Schmidt) make it clear that in order to close one gap, one has to close another. Specifically, in order to produce enough STEM graduates, the younger generation of today (including K-12 and college students) must be engaged early and made aware of the wonders of science and technology, and the importance of STEM issues for our everyday lives. Public science education events like “Street Science” but also the rising number of afterschool STEM programs, are practical steps in the right direction, but it will require continuous effort from both the public and the private sectors to keep STEM careers looking “Cool” and “Awesome” in the eyes of the bright minds of tomorrow.


This well-mannered tarantula helped attendees to overcome their fear of the unknown


An array of blinking lights on strings illustrated how neutrinos travel through the detector at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the south pole


Twenty-four visits to Stockholm: A Concise History of the Rockefeller Nobel Prizes

Part XX: Paul Greengard, 2000 Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Joseph Luna

Paul Greengard,

Paul Greengard, Ph.D. Photo courtesy of the Rockefeller University

Of the 37.2 trillion cells in the human body (excluding microbes), there are about 100 billion, or about 0.2%, that are a breed apart. These supercharged cells are indeed just that, charged to carry electrical signals to communicate with one another. They are organized into a dense and almost unfathomably complex network that uses gobs of energy to act as a command center for everything humanly imaginable. These cells control your breathing, your ability to see, and initiate every movement you make. They are responsible for every idea you’ve ever had, every feeling you’ve ever felt, and every memory you’ve ever recalled.

I’m writing of course, of the neuron, the basic cellular unit of the brain. Because of their almost mystical properties, generations of scientists have dedicated entire careers toward understanding how neurons work. Nowadays, we call such devotees neuroscientists, but this wasn’t always so. When our next future Stockholm visitor got started, the basic truths outlined above were known about neurons. But they remained a black box: so little was understood about neuronal insides that neuroscience wasn’t yet a distinct field in the mid-1950s and early 1960s. For a newly minted PhD named Paul Greengard, this soon became an inspiring frontier.

Trained as a neurophysiologist at Johns Hopkins, Greengard was thoroughly grounded in the electrophysiological school that viewed neurons essentially as living electric cables. In other words, everything important about the brain could be explained through an electrical understanding of how neurons communicated with each other at short timescales. By understanding the biophysics of a firing neuron, it was believed that a largely complete understanding of the brain was possible. And yet, neurons weren’t inert conduits: to the biochemists, they contained scores of unique enzymes and molecules that at first glance had little to do with the rapid electrical wizardry for which neurons were famous. As living entities, they were likely much more complicated than electrophysiologists believed. Not surprisingly in this situation, neither side took the other seriously.

One feature of neurons as cells caught and kept Greengard’s attention: neurotransmitters. In the normal rapid communication between two neurons, an excited neuron releases specific molecules to stimulate a neighboring neuron, a bit like passing a message with a direct handshake. This fast synaptic transmission as it was called, was carried out in milliseconds. But there were dozens of other neurotransmitters that appeared to act much slower, on the scale of dozens of milliseconds to seconds, sometimes minutes. This slow synaptic transmission presented a bit of a puzzle. No one knew how it worked, or largely what it was for.

Greengard’s great insight was to pay attention to the biochemists. Starting from the premise that a neurotransmitter was a small chemical messenger between two cells, Greengard was encouraged by work with hormones, as a similar form of cellular communication. What made hormones remarkable was their ability to act at long distances, a hormone made in the pancreas could travel through the bloodstream and instruct a distant liver or muscle cell. Greengard hypothesized that neurons might be using similar principles, without the long distances. It was a bit like saying that in a world where quick handshakes were king, neurons were also using phones, fax and email to talk to one another.

The early neuroscience community was skeptical that any long distance communication was needed in a fast synaptic transmission world, but Greengard had a decisive edge. He knew from the biochemists that when a hormone reached its target cell, a specific enzyme called an adenyl cyclase was activated to make a molecule called cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), and both the enzyme and cAMP could be reliably measured. Then at Yale, Greengard and his first postdocs tested to see if such an enzyme existed in the brain that could make cAMP. To their surprise, they found that the adenyl cyclase levels were not only higher in the brain compared to other tissues, but that a slow acting neurotransmitter called dopamine was needed to activate the enzyme. This was a first peek inside neuronal machinery, and it confirmed that the signaling that went on inside of neurons was consistent with other cell types. Suddenly an entirely different layer of communication and regulation of neurons was on the table.

Starting with a dopamine-sensitive adenyl cyclase, over the next three decades (and persisting to this day), Greengard and his laboratory, in no small part, created much of molecular and cellular neuroscience by charting the order of intracellular events triggered by a neuron engaging a neurotransmitter. First with biochemistry and neurophysiology, and later with molecular biology and mouse genetics, the Greengard lab showed that these slower signaling pathways didn’t replace the fast communication between neurons, but rather they modulated them: they acted like the knobs and dial settings that enabled the brain to run smoothly. These discoveries had enormous implications for a variety of neurological and psychiatric diseases associated with abnormal dopamine signaling, from Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, ADHD, and drug abuse. Molecular explanations of how drugs worked on the brain were now possible, not to mention inspiring whole new avenues of therapeutic intervention.

One might expect that as the neuron gave up many of its secrets, fewer would have been drawn to it. On the contrary; because of the efforts in Greengard’s lab, the neuronal muse continues to inspire current and future generations of scientists. Mystery yields to awe.

All Aboard the BioBus

Aileen Marshall


Photo by Aileen Marshall/NATURAL SELECTIONS

What were your science laboratory classes like when you were in grade school or high school? Did you ever get a chance to use a fluorescence microscope? Or sequence DNA? I never did. What if you had never been exposed to much laboratory science during your school years, would you have gone into the field? Probably not. This is the idea behind the BioBus. It’s a 1974 public transit bus converted into a mobile lab, with research grade microscopes. The bus’s staff and volunteer scientists travel to schools in in New York City and all over the country, particularly to underprivileged areas. Using the microscopes, they give hands on laboratory lessons in areas such as development, ecology and evolution. This gives young students a chance to actually perform a science experiment, something they might not normally have a chance to do. It spurs their interest in science and hopefully will help to develop the scientists of the next generation.

The BioBus was started in 2008 by Ben Dubin-Thaler, after getting his Ph.D. in Biology from Columbia University. The bus is retrofitted to use both solar power and biofuel. With the seats gutted, the bus has six different research grade microscopes, all with monitors, so that all the students can share their views with others. There is a light, a fluorescent, three dissecting and even an electron microscope, which only has a footprint of about two by three feet. In addition, there are two “MiScopes”, a camera probe attached to the dissecting microscopes to let the students examine their own skin, eyes, or whatever material they have. BioBus staff scientist Robert Frawley, formally of Cornell, notes “kids really like woven things since you can see the thread very clearly.” The scientists who conduct the labs are mostly volunteer, some from Rockefeller University and the other Tri-Institutions. They use fruit flies, snails, mollusks, skin cells, pollen grains and an organism called daphnia. It’s a transparent, microscopic shrimp-like organism that naturally lives in ponds and waterways in the area. It’s good for teaching anatomy since their anatomy is similar to human and visible. Under a microscope, one can see a daphnia’s heart beating and food moving through their digestive tract. The children get a chance to identify whatever organism they are working on by its DNA. The students do the pipetting to isolate the DNA and run a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), which replicates the DNA in order to make it visible on an electrophoretic gel. This gel is a method of separating the DNA bases into bands in order to determine the sequence. The scientist teacher will then show them a gel that has already been run. With an onboard computer, the students compare the DNA sequence they have derived with online databases to identify their organism. The lessons typically run about forty-five minutes.

Besides the metropolitan area, the bus has been as far west as Colorado and New Mexico. Sixty-five percent of their visits are to schools in low income neighborhoods. The students are mostly African-American, Hispanic and female; groups that are underrepresented in science professions. Statistics from the BioBus show that a dramatic improvement in the students attitude towards science. The bus serves over 30,000 children a year, from grade school through high school. They have been visited by Bill Nye, “The Science Guy,” and Nobel prize winner Martin Chalfie. He won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2008, for the discovery of green fluorescent protein, which is used as a marker for gene expression.

On a typical day, a scientist will meet the bus early in the morning at the first location they are visiting that day. They set up the microscopes and prepare the samples for the lessons. The first students can come on the bus at 8 a.m. Frawley relates “We have major points we want to address in our lessons, however teachers on the BioBus love to let students push the conversation with their questions and comments.” As they leave, the students get worksheets and stickers that say “Biobus Scientist.” The staff then has to clean up and set up for the next group. When the school day is done, they secure the microscopes and supplies and head back to the BioBase.

The BioBase is an extention of the Biobus opened in 2014.  It is a bricks and mortar lab housed in The Girls Club on the Lower East Side. There they have after school, weekend and summer programs, too.  A Regents class is offered in four one hour sessions. There is a small amphitheater for giving classes and presentations. The students will make posters from their work and present them. In the laboratory they have four dissecting scopes and two light microscopes, as well as two more MiScopes and a florescence microscope. There is some bench space, a sink, incubators, fish tanks, an under counter refrigerator, a table top centrifuge, and lab coats. In the fish tanks are organisms they collect from the East River, such as oysters and other crustaceans and many different microorganisms used in the lessons.

Most funding for the BioBus comes from private and corporate donors such as Regeneron, Lumenera and the Simmons Foundation. All of the microscopes are donated, which is equivalent to an amount in the six figures. There are plans to purchase a second bus. While there is a small staff, most of the scientists are volunteers. Rockefeller’s own Jeanne Garbarino has worked with them. For more information, go to


CrossFit: Everything You Need to Know About One of Our Current Fastest Growing Sports

 Francesca Cavallo



Starting any new exercise practice can be discouraging, and it’s no different when entering into a CrossFit gym, which can be a nerve-wrecking experience. Although in the current sports environment everybody is talking about CrossFit, there are those who don’t even know what kind of sport it is. CrossFit is a complete and efficient training package. Created by Greg Glassman in the USA in the seventies, CrossFit started gaining popularity when the first CrossFit gym (called Box) opened in 1995 in Santa Cruz (California), before reaching its height in popularity after 2008.Today, there are more than 8,000 gyms and fitness centers spread around the world where CrossFit is performed.

CrossFit is commonly advertised in four words as “the sport of fitness” with a combination of constantly varied, high-intensity functional movements. It can be thought of as a training philosophy that coaches people of all shapes and sizes to improve their lifestyle and cardiovascular fitness within an encouraging environment. A CrossFit gym is unlike a normal gym. There is only one work out, called “WOD” (described below), performed each day that is completely scalable based on your skill levels.

How is a CrossFit class organized?

  1. Warm up/ Mobility

Usually it starts with a warm up and mobility phase, which is conducted as floor exercises to activate different muscular groups in preparation for the workout. It’s important that this phase includes the use of small tools like foamrollers, elastic bands, and backballs for muscular massage. This phase is essential because it prevents injuries and makes the subsequent movements more fluid.

  1. Skill/Strength

Within this phase different exercises that will be in the workout are explained then performed (see Table below), including instructions on the techniques underlying specific movements.

  1. WOD

This phase represents the real workout. In this phase there is no time to sharpen your technique or to rest. Following the CrossFit principle of high intensity, athletes have to exert maximum effort in the given timeframe. Typically, this phase has different time periods of activity from five minutes up to 30 minutes. It’s considered the metabolic part of the workout, often called Metcon.

  1. Recovery/Flexibility

This phase is dedicated to exercise recovery, muscular lengthening and cool down. Under coach guidance stretching exercises are conducted, with a general duration of about ten minutes.

What are the CrossFit exercises?

A fixed list of exercises does not exist, instead during the training sessions different disciplines are interchanged with different functions and characteristics (see below).

Gymnastic Cardio Weightlifting
Squat Run Deadlift
Pull-up bike Clean
Push-up rowing Press
Dip Jump rope Snatch
Rope climb Clean and jerk
Muscle-up Kettlebell swing


In particular, CrossFit combines different sports and movements. You can move from weightlifting to gymnastic routines, or from cardio to running and climbing, amongst others. A variety of tools are used including barbells, medicine balls, rings, kettlebells, box jumps etc.

It’s important to remember that CrossFit’s goal is not aesthetic, like bodybuilding, but rather aims to achieve a good health performance base. The improvement seen in the body is a pleasant consequence of CrossFit and not the sole purpose.

Free Summer Park Events in NYC

Susan Russo

Park rules for ALL parks: NO glass containers (baby bottles OK); alcohol; smoking; drugs; dogs off leashes YES blankets or towels (but NO plastic or tarps); restrooms; food vendors/stands



Bennett Park (Fort Washington Avenue and West 183rd Street, Pinehurst Avenue)

Thursday, July 21   Show starts at 8:30pm. – Ray

St. Nicholas Park – Historic Harlem Parks Film

Festival (St. Nicholas Plaza at St. Nicholas Avenue and West 135th Street) Shows start at sundown; seating area opens at 6:00pm.

Monday, July 18 – Within Our Gates (“earliest surviving feature by an African-American director”)

Wednesday, July 27 – The Wiz (1978)

Rodgers Amphitheater, Marcus Garvey Park

(East 120th to 124th Streets and Madison Avenue) Show starts at sundown; seating area opens at 6:00pm.

Monday, Aug 1 – Purple Rain

Morningside Park (114th Street at Morningside Drive) Show starts at sundown; seating area opens at 6:00pm.

Monday July 25 – Mavis Staples and the Staples Singers

Thomas Jefferson Park (First Avenue between 111th and 114th Streets) Show starts at 8:30pm.

Thursday, July 28 – Annie (2014)

Sherman Kreek Peninsula Park (10th Avenue, Between Academy Street and the Harlem River) Shows start at sundown; seating area opens at 6:30pm.

Wednesday, July 13 – Inside Out

Tuesday, August 9 – Fly Away Home

Randall’s Island Park (“at Touchdown of the 103rd Street Footbridge”) Shows start at 8:00pm. Sunday, July 31 – The Goonies

Sunday, Aug 28 – Inside Out (at Randall’s Island Connector) Show starts at 8:00pm.

Sunday, Aug 14 – The Good Dinosaur

103rd Street Community Garden (103rd Street east of Park Avenue) Show starts at 7:45pm.

Tuesday, Aug 30 – The Incredibles

Pier I Picture Show (Riverside Park South – enter at 66th Street at the Hudson River) Shows start at 8:30pm; seating starts at 6:30pm.

Wednesday, July 13 – Basquiat                                              

Friday, July 15 – Un Flic (film noir in French)

Wednesday, July 20 – Arthur (1981)

Wednesday, July 27 – Dog Day Afternoon

Wednesday, Aug 3 – The Royal Tenenbaums

Wednesday, Aug 10 – “Audience vote” – Mary and Max or Carol or The Warriors

Wednesday, Aug 17 – Auntie Mame


Bryant Park (behind the 42nd St. Main Library) 42nd to 40th Streets, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Shows start at sundown; gravel areas around the lawn open at 5:00pm (chairs and bench seating available); the lawn area opens at 6:00pm.

Mondays, July 18 – The Omen

July 25 – Three Days of the Condor

Aug 1 – Harvey

Aug 8 – High Plains Drifter

Aug 15 – The Big Chill

Aug 22 – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

At this park only – BAG CHECKS are made before entering. So you should know, seats and lawn spaces are are taken fast; it’s best to send a friend to hold space with a blanket EARLY.

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The Violent Brilliance of Peaky Blinders

Bernie Langs

culture corner

Photo Courtesy of BBC

It isn’t often that a television series completely engages me, and I am able to watch entire seasons without losing interest. Peaky Blinders comes to Netflix from the BBC and centers on a gangster family with their many schemes and adventures in post-World War I Birmingham, England. I’ve watched the first two seasons and am half-way through the third and most current season. The show has been renewed for two more years.

Peaky Blinders focuses on the three brothers and a sister of the Shelby family, their aunt and her recently discovered teenage son, and various other characters, such as an Irish Major trying to stop the family’s efforts, but later secretly recruits them for business in service of the Crown. There are times of graphic and disturbing violence portrayed on the show, that is often cringe-worthy. What makes this first-rate television is that the characters have complex personalities and are portrayed by a cast of actors that display incredible depth. In addition, the show utilizes loud, in-your-face contemporary rock music at times, that lends an acoustic parallel to the physical violence or the inner torments of the tortured souls being depicted. Peaky Blinders boasts beautiful sets and the cinematography and direction is full-length film worthy.

The Shelby family is led by Tommy, a decorated World War I veteran played by Cillian Murphy. For the first two seasons he was hounded by Major Chester Campbell, portrayed with vehemence by Sam Neill. Their chess match, even the one that took place when Shelby and Campbell were allies, was a wonder to watch unfold. Murphy’s Tommy Shelby has multiple layers of personality conflicts as he tries, mostly in vain, to take the ever-growing success and wealth of the family into legitimacy, echoing Al Pacino’s Godfather lament “They keep drawing me back!” Murphy is sometimes shown onscreen for long periods where he is thinking or staring someone down. The viewer is taken deep inside his psyche and the actor displays an uncanny and frightening ability to show a man shutting down any sense of human emotion or decency when it is necessary. Series creator, Steven Knight, makes use of Murphy’s rich eye color to allow us to see inside his very soul.

The rest of the cast play their roles with equal depth. Tommy’s elder brother, Arthur, portrayed by Paul Anderson, provides many of the show’s most violent outbursts. Yet his moments of silent suffering and intense inner turmoil make what could have been a clichéd role into a memorable characterization of a shell-shocked veteran who is both out-of-control yet fully self-aware and thus in the throes of a deep-set, unique suffering. Annabelle Wallis plays Grace Burgess, recruited by the love-struck Major Campbell to go undercover to infiltrate the Shelby gang and whom subsequently falls hard in love with Tommy. She too could have been written in standard television language, but the actress exploits her beauty as a tool for displays of complex emotions in the face of conflict and ruinous life decisions.

The final episode of season two was one of the best written dramatic television shows I’ve ever seen. Taking place in 1922 at the Epsom racecourse, Tommy Shelby has timed a Winston Churchill and Major Campbell-sanctioned political murder down to the second, and as things go wrong and he has to adjust his playbook, the viewer is riveted by the fast on screen action. Various characters that have appeared on the show come together beautifully during this climactic play of circumstance.

The complexities of the Shelby clan as gangsters reminds me of HBO’s The Sopranos. James Gandolfini’s acting as crime boss Tony Soprano was awe-inspiring. There was so much to Tony’s character that it was riveting to just watch him fidget with his pasta with a fork. The violence on that show was also unheard of at the time for a television series and much of Peaky Blinder’s harshness is in a similar manner. Gandolfini’s character was always on the verge of seeing himself for what he was, but he never could quite reach that moment of realizing the monster within. Late in the series, his long-time psychiatrist cuts him loose, unable, she tells him, to treat him since he is a sociopath. There was also a fantastic scene where Tony takes a hallucinatory drug and when viewing a beautiful landscape yells out in a Eureka fit of joy, “I get it!” But the thing is, he never did.

Cillian Murphy’s Tommy Shelby “gets it” however and is at war with himself about what he must do to maintain his family’s businesses and integrity as he strives for legitimacy. He won’t deny his inner violence in that pursuit. Even the slow-witted Arthur gets it more than he wants to and chooses to altruistically kill at times to spare his beloved brother Tommy from having to do so.

Smaller roles in Peaky Blinders include one played by the great actor Tom Hardy as the leader of a Jewish gangster clan. Hardy steals his scenes with his fast-talking and scheming and his own brand of violence. Those of us who have marveled at Hardy’s movie career can only imagine the joy he is taking, in being part of this terrific television ensemble. It is also amusing that he appeared with Murphy in the heady film Inception. The press has made much of the fact that the late rock star David Bowie contacted the show’s creator towards the end of his life, offering his music for inclusion in the soundtrack. Those of us who are fans of this great series are in excellent company.

For Your Consideration – Ones to Watch, Vol. 1 Edition

Jim Keller

It’s that time of year again! This first in a four-part series, focused on the leading ladies of the Best Actress race, will take us up to January 2017 when Oscar nominations are announced. This year’s Best Actress selection was as stark white as last year’s, prompting many to have another heyday with #OscarsSoWhite. In the spirit of affecting change, several women of color are included here, even if it’s uncertain whether all of their films will have an Oscar-qualifying run. Also, it appears that the gap between films led by men versus women has further narrowed. Some of this year’s potential Best Actress contenders have already received high marks; could they hold on through the season? Last Oscar season saw two young actresses (Brie Larson vs. Saoirse Ronan) duke it out until the bitter end, but if you paid attention, the winner was no surprise. Unlike the previous year, the category featured only true leads (not supporting roles masquerading as leads), perhaps another sign of the changing times. What will this year’s story be? Will our top five continue to be true leads? We’ll look to answer these questions in the next couple of months, but let’s first examine last year’s Best Actress nomination results.

Of the seven roles that were discussed here, only three went on to secure Best Actress nominations: the aforementioned Ronan who was defeated by Larson, Jennifer Lawrence for Joy, and Cate Blanchett for Carol. Interestingly enough, some Oscar favorites Meryl Streep (Ricki and the Flash), Kate Winslet (The Dressmaker) and Marion Cotillard (Macbeth) failed to land nominations. The only snubbed performance was from Carey Mulligan whose film, Suffragette, was maligned early on when T-shirts worn by the cast (including Streep) were misinterpreted by the public as depicting a racial slur. The last nominee was Charlotte Rampling (45 Years).


Florence Foster Jenkins. Photo Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

THE QUEEN BEE: Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins (director: Stephen Frears): FYC: This British biographical comedic drama tells the story of the titular character (Streep), a New York heiress who aspires to become an opera singer, despite essentially being unable to carry a tune. Streep continues to be discussed every year in this column. The actress has racked up 16 Oscar nominations and three Oscar wins—two in lead (Sophie’s Choice in 1983 and The Iron Lady in 2011), and one in supporting (Kramer vs. Kramer in 1980). Early reviews of the film, set to open in the U.S. on August 12, have praised Streep’s performance, so it is a safe bet to pencil her in for now.

THE NEWCOMER: Ruth Negga – Loving (director: Jeff Nichols):
FYC: The British-American drama tells the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Negga), an interracial couple who were sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married. The film received a standing ovation when it competed for the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and will campaign in several of the major categories this awards season, including Best Actress and Best Picture. Ethiopian-born Negga is a newcomer having just appeared on American television in AMC’s Preacher. She has previously been recognized by the Irish Television and Film Awards in her home country. Given the state of racial affairs at the Oscars and her performance’s Cannes reception, Negga stands a good chance of being nominated, unless she is bested by another woman of color (see below).

THE LOVER: Marion Cotillard – Allied (director: Robert Zemeckis):
FYC: A romantic World War II thriller based on the true story of a French-Canadian spy (Brad Pitt) who investigates his wife, a French agent (Cotillard), after learning that she may also be a Nazi spy. Cotillard has been on track for a second Oscar after her Best Actress win in 2008 for La Vie en Rose and last year’s nomination for Two Days, One Night. While thrillers are not often the stuff that Oscar dreams are made of, Cotillard shines in most everything she does and may be able to muscle her way into a nomination.

Jennifer Lawrence – Passengers (director: Morten Tyldum):
FYC: A sci-fi adventure revolving around two of thousands of spacecraft passengers, traveling to a distant colony planet, who are awakened 90 years early from hyper sleep due to a malfunction in their sleep chambers. In 2012, Lawrence won the Best Actress Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook after earning her first Best Actress nomination in 2011 for Winter’s Bone. She went on to net a Best Supporting Actress nomination for American Hustle (2014), and her third Best Actress nomination this year for Joy. If anyone can match Sigourney Weaver by getting a Best Actress nomination for a sci-fi film, it’s Lawrence. Further, being directed by 2015’s Best Director nominee for The Imitation Game and a December release bodes well for her chances.

THE MOTHER: Alicia Vikander – The Light Between Oceans (director: Derek Cianfrance):
FYC: In this drama, based on M. L. Stedman’s novel of the same name, a lighthouse keeper and his wife, living off the coast in post World War I Western Australia, rescue a baby from an adrift rowboat and raise her as their own. As the baby grows older, the couple encounters a woman (Rachel Weisz) who threatens to break-up their family. Vikander won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar this year for The Danish Girl and also earned Golden Globe and British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) nominations for that role as well as for her supporting role in Ex Machina. The actress was also recognized by a slew of critic bodies throughout the last awards season. With her career on the uptick, back-to-back nominations wouldn’t be out of the question.

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New York State Of Mind


This month Natural Selections features Brian Fabella, Research Technician in the Hudspeth Lab

Interview by Guadalupe Astorga

Brian FabellaHow long have you been living in the New York area?                           

17 years in July.

Where do you currently live?  Which is your favorite neighborhood?

I currently live in Woodside, Queens, and my favorite neighborhood right now is Long Island City. I like going to Gantry State Park. The kids and I have fun and there are good restaurants and bars.

What do you think is the most overrated thing in the city? And underrated? 

I think the most overrated is the Statue of Liberty. It is beautiful for sure, but visitors go there and completely overlook the underrated Ellis Island, which I think offers a good snapshot of America’s immigrant history.

What do you miss most when you are out of town? 

I miss the bacon, egg and cheese sandwich from my local bodega, I can’t really find the same type of sandwich when I leave the city.

Has anything (negative or positive) changed about you since you became one of us “New Yorkers?”

Living in NY has forced me to become more assertive, so I think that is positive, but at the same time it has caused me to become less patient.

 If you could change one thing about NYC, what would that be?

I would like to decrease the rent everywhere since it’s becoming harder and harder for people to find a place that is close to the city and relatively affordable. You have luxury skyscrapers going up everywhere that the majority of New Yorkers can’t even come close to affording.

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Quotable Quote


“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

(Muhammad Ali, 1942-2016)


A Piece of Our Mind

George Barany and Christopher Adams

This “mid-week level” puzzle, with a political theme (pictorial hint to the right), is released with the utmost respect for the victims of senseless violence and terror. After completing the puzzle (spoiler), you may want to click here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here for factual backup and an assortment of perspectives on the puzzle’s theme. Warning: Some of these will enrage you, and others will break your heart.

Click here to view or download the puzzle in PDF format; here to download it as a puz file; here to download it as an ipuz file [requires the free Puzzazz app to solve]; here to solve the puzzle interactively (thanks to Jim Horne); here for the solution. We are indebted to Ralph Bunker, John Child, Noam Elkies, Katherine Halpern, Michael Hanko, Lewis Rothlein, and Ned White for beta testing the puzzle and for their sensitive and creative suggestions that improved it.

If you want to tell others about this particular page, refer them to


1. Summer term at UCLA?
4. Down in the dumps
7. FICA funds it
10. ___ anthem, like “I Will Survive” or
13. Hem and ___ (be indecisive)
14. Reproductive cells
15. Perfect score, or half a score
16. Poetic paean
17. Brest friend
18. One found on the Rod of Asclepius
20. Rug rat
21. California, 12/2/2015 (14 dead, 22
24. Pop-Tarts cousins
25. Singer Zadora
26. Bit of work
28. It may be caught in the headlights
29. Virginia, 4/16/2007 (33 dead, 17
33. Corporals or sergeants, very informally
35. Frequently used font
36. Connecticut, 12/14/2012 (28 dead, 2
39. Florida, 6/12/2016 (50 dead, 53
41. 1959 Medicine Nobel laureate Severo
who was honored on a USPS stamp in
42. In bars, these are better to throw down
than to ring out
43. South Carolina, 6/17/2015 (9 dead, 1
46. “Ain’t That a ___ in the Head?”
50. “___, Palermo!” (Procida’s aria from “I
Vespri Siciliani”) (anagram of OUT)
51. Evolutionary ancestor
52. Chocolate source
53. Plea in response to 21-, 29-, 36-, 39-,
and 43-Across, and too many others to list
57. Start and end of the Three Musketeers’
59. More like an oboe
60. ___-jongg
61. Daily ___ (liberal political blog)
62. “A” of ETA
63. Welcome sign on B’way
64. Honest ___, the first Republican
65. Bunyan’s blade
66. “The Waste Land” poet’s monogram
67. Actor Hanks
68. GRF’s VP (and a mixed-up org.
opposed to gun control)

1. Done in stages
2. Harm
3. Pang
4. Fails to win
5. Superior to
6. Raise red flags
7. ___ hindrance (important concept in
organic chemistry)
8. “Where the Wild Things Are” author/
illustrator Maurice
9. Pro’s foe
10. Fall apart
11. Commotion
12. Even so
19. Half of the “Dedicated to the One I Love”
22. Springsteen song that references the
American dream
23. William Jennings Bryan, for one
27. Sheepskin holder
29. Yo-Yo Ma might use one or take one
30. K-O knockout?
31. NaCl
32. Shine, in ad-speak
34. Fossil fuel advocated by fossils such as
Mitch McConnell
36. Chief ___-A-Homa (onetime Braves
mascot; anagram of CON)
37. ___ chamber (apt metaphor for news and
social media)
38. “So ___ is new?”
39. Cry of surprise
40. Politico Paul
42. Knight mare
44. Lotus-___ (race encountered by
45. Area of influence
47. Mutant who came out in comics in 2015
48. Fruit named for a Turkish town
49. Legit
52. Storage medium
54. “Darn!”
55. Atomizer output
56. Prefix with dynamic or nautical
57. Alias, for short
58. It is often served with cream cheese, on a

George Barany is a Rockefeller alum (1977) currently on the Chemistry faculty of the
University of Minnesota–Twin Cities and Christopher Adams is a graduate student
in mathematics at the University of Iowa. This puzzle was created with the utmost
respect for the victims of senseless violence and terror. Some aspects will enrage you,
and others will break your heart. For more information, including a link to the answer,
visit here.


Robert Mark and George Barany

This “mid-week level” themed puzzle represents Robert’s crossword debut (pictorial hint to the right, and bonus points if you can explain the puzzle’s title). After completing the puzzle (spoiler), learn more about its creation and some of the clues by clicking here for GB’s “midrash.”

Click here to view or download the puzzle in PDF format; here to download it as a puz file [requires Across Lite software to play]; here to solve the puzzle interactively (thanks to Jim Horne); here for the solution. We thank beta testers for beta testing numerous iterations of this theme, and making helpful suggestions that brought it to its present level.

If you want to tell others about this particular page, refer them to


1 Prefix with gon or gram                                                                                                    6 Record
10 Flight from Israel?
14 Rig
15 ___-friendly
16 Baking ___ (NaHCO3)
17 Applies a spell checker?
20 Thanksgiving staple
21 They may be crunched
22 Brooks from Brooklyn
23 Do a slow burn
25 These may be conducted on board the Calypso?
31 They can get bruised or massaged
33 Jodie’s eponymous film role (1994)
34 Word in seven of the ten commandments
35 Extinct big bird
37 Sought direction (from)
40 Keep a spring farm journal?
44 Mesmerize
45 Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera “Le Coq
46 A in Aachen
47 Rubber trees
49 Miniature sci-fi vehicles
52 Absent-minded conductor?
56 Very, to Wilhelm
58 Sine qua ___
59 Average name?
61 “There’s ___ in team”
62 Desperate for firewood?
68 Caspian feeder
69 Clarinet’s cousin
70 Winged
71 Tends the lawn
72 Pantheon members
73 78/100, e.g., … and a hint to this
puzzle’s theme

1 Great Fire of London chronicler Samuel
2 Consider the same
3 Béchamel sauce component
4 McCourt sequel
5 Samoan capital
6 University of Arizona location
7 Bat wood
8 Mendel subject
9 Be on the side of caution?
10 “___ House” overlooking Central Park, site of a famous signage malfunction
11 Where Dylan’s ‘sad-eyed lady’ hails from
12 Lovelace of computer lore
13 Put (down)
18 US Olympic airer for at least the first
third of the 21st century
19 Mrs., in Montreux
24 George Eliot or George Sand, e.g.
26 Chills
27 Oodles
28 Frank ___ Wright (Guggenheim Museum architect)
29 Sleuth played by Lorre
30 Put away
32 Soaks, with “up”
36 Two thumbs down
38 Reagan-era Surgeon General
39 Continental capital
40 Hwys.
41 Pop music’s Burdon or Clapton
42 Vatican dogma
43 Hawaii’s “Orchid Capital”
48 Rushlike aquaplants
50 First stage of grief
51 It’s in put, but not in computer
53 Stirs the pot
54 Med. specialty
55 Mythical big bird
57 Soars
60 ___-a-mole
62 Total
63 Met, Jet, or Net
64 Get dressed (up)
65 Nigerian native
66 Affirmative action
67 Swiss peak


Life on a Roll

Qiong Wang

“My first visit to Venice was around this time last year. It brought back so many good memories just to browse through the photos. The city is one of a kind. Even though I had heard and read a decent amount about it before my visit, I still felt embarrassed for being so ignorant about the depth and richness of its art and history. I wish I knew the story of every bridge in Venice; I wish I had more knowledge about the work and life of Titian so that I could have an enhanced spiritual exchange with the talented artist in the Frari church. I wish I knew more about the Venetian Republic so that I could envision the prosperity of the medieval powerhouse as the motor sound of vaporettos synthesized into the sound of waves in the grand canal. However, I was not so impressed by the vibrant Burano island although it is a cute spot for photography. Spero di visitare di nuovo! ”



All Photos by QIONG WANG